Is it too late to amend my Top 10 Movies of 2015? This little film finally showed up “at a theater near me” and so I took it in. The film features the excellent Saoirse Ronan (“Hanna” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) who got her first Oscar nom for 2007’s “Atonement.” She plays Eillis Lacey, an Irish lass of about 20. With the urging of her older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott, “House of Shadows”), she’s heading off for America, where she will settle in with other Irish emigres in Brooklyn.
Director John Crowley (“Closed Circuit”) had me from the beginning. As the departing Eillis is waving goodbye to Rose and their mother, Mary (Jane Brennan), the camera closes in on the faces of the families on shore. Panning the camera to the left, we see others whose faces project the sadness of family members heading off to a new life across the Atlantic. Eillis isn’t sure about it all, but Rose has insisted she will find a better life there.
Once she arrives, Eillis settles in at a boarding house run by Mrs. Keogh, (Julie Walters), thanks to Father Flood (Jim Broadbent). The landlady is a hoot as are the other tenants. Much different than I expected. She’s morally sensible but has no problem with the young women seeking a man. It seems a little off-putting in today’s world, but the ideal life in the early 1950’s was a man, a woman and children. Each of the ladies have small scenes at the nightly dinner table and rather than turn them into run-of-the-mill meanies or misfits, Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby give each a personality. It is really quite refreshing.
As Eillis begins to adapt and moves on past her loneliness and regret, she meets Tony (Emory Cohen, “The Place Beyond the Pines”), a young Italian plumber, at a church dance. In a beautiful turn by Cohen, Tony is the perfect marrying type. He’s handsome, he’s polite, he has a job, and he’s ambitious. Everything seems to be working out. Even Eillis’s clerk job at a high end department store is going well. She’s taking night classes in bookkeeping and hopes to become an accountant, like her sister.
Plans are interrupted however as events in her home country require a trip back. Once there, Eillis meets some old friends and eventually Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), another well-meaning bachelor from a wealthy family. They become friends quickly. Eillis is even given a part time job in her chosen field. What to do? Stay in Ireland or go back to Tony and New York. Frankly, the choice is difficult and Ms. Ronan handles the scenes brilliantly. I’m guessing she won’t win the Oscar this year, but if she does, I won’t be shocked…or disappointed. She’s in almost every scene and she’s terrific, as is the movie. Highly recommended.